Your Face Reflects How You Live and
How You Care for Your Complexion

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

The holiday months are upon us. Most of us have less time and less sleep during this period since we want to prepare for family celebrations and attend many social and professional events. I don’t know about you, but I do love seeing friends and colleagues at holiday parties, lunches and dinners. This is the one time of the year when I make real time in my work schedule for friendship, fun and family.

Of course we want to look our best during this festive time but I think we sometimes forget that how we live is always visible on our face. I believe that the most important part of a skin care routine is how we choose to live every day. I have had the great fortune to have mentors and patients in my long career in New York City who were 10 to 40 years older than me. I have watched many of them move through the decades of their lives. These are some of their secrets as they’ve had the good luck to have good health and beautiful complexions and joyful faces to show for it.

  1. They avoided too much alcohol, which causes the face to look bloated and destroys the complexion with red blotches and the development of red capillaries.
  2. They made time for fun, friendship, love, meditation, exercise, sleep, and good health habits.
  3. They became part of a community, developing relationships with neighbors or members of an organization that fulfilled them spiritually, culturally or intellectually.
  4. They  joined with others to energize and inspire citizens in their communities to become involved in civic life.
  5. They found a way to give back. Often they took their extended families with them to serve those who had little.  They found those in their community who were alone and made connections with them. They shared more of what they had.

In addition to the above, we can also look better with a little help! I have asked Dr. Anetta Reszko, a board member of Women’s Voices for Change and a medical board advisory member of our site,  to give us a primer on how to navigate the wide array of beauty care treatments and products that we find at the beauty counter of department stores across the country.

Use her recommendations and consider that a life well lived contributes to a face each of us would like to see in the mirror every day.

Dr. Pat


Dr. Reszko:

Of course we want to look our best, beginning with a fresh complexion.  Winter winds and cold air outdoors, coupled with dry heat indoors does affect everyone’s facial skin.  Many women look for solutions for their complexion concerns at the beauty counters that are everywhere in department stores across the country.  I was shopping on Black Friday, like most Americans this week, and wandered by the beauty counters in several stores (a bit of busman’s holiday for sure!). I was, once again, amazed at the hundreds of products available at these stores and could only imagine how confusing it must be for women to make good choices without knowledge of their own complexion needs or the what the chemicals are in these many products.

Some of the products with the exquisite packaging (and the price tag to match) look more like works of art than a skin care product.  Copper peptides, apple stem cells, snail extract, ionized platinum particles—I overheard the sales talk as I walked along the beauty counter at an upscale department store in my local mall. What do these ingredients have to do with proper and adequate skin care?  There is a dizzying number of opinions on everything from how to moisturize to how to protect skin from UV rays.

Ultimately, caring for your skin is extremely personal. And great skin is no longer only simply a matter of your DNA.  Your daily habits have a big impact. Below I’ll describe several principles that will allow you to become an educated customer with a complexion that is not dry with red patches but moist and healthy appearing.


Five Main Steps of Skincare

Cleansing — Washing your face.

Toning — Balancing the skin.

Moisturizing — Hydrating and restoring the skin.

Treating — Addressing all problem areas and issues.

Protection and Repair — Preventing future skin damage and repair of the existing damage.

The goal of your skincare routine should not be to achieve perfection of the Instagram filtered posts but to tune up your complexion so it’s functioning at its best and targeted areas that require extra care are addressed. As your skin needs shift with season and age, so should your products.


Improvement Takes Time

Do not count on gimmicks of instant fixes.  In most cases, results are only seen through consistent use.  In general plan to use a product at least a few weeks, once or twice daily, to evaluate its full efficacy and notice a difference.


Order of Application Matters

Order of application of skin care products matters.  Apply in order of consistency — from thinnest to thickest. Use toner first, followed by, light serum, face oil (if desired) then cream moisturizer and ointment or oil. In general ointments are more moisturizing than creams and lotion.


1. Cleansing

Washing your face is the most basic and essential step of any routine.  Skin constantly turns over and comes in contact with environmental pollutants, toxins and dirt that should be gently removed.  Washing the face twice a day, morning and night is essential to avoid clogged pores, dullness and acne.  The right cleansing product cleanses skin without stripping essential natural moisturizers and oils. One of the most common mistakes that I see in my private practice in New York is over exfoliation and over drying of the skin especially by the patients that have acne prone skin.  In general, do not use exfoliating scrubs more than once a week and avoid those with crushed walnut or apricot shells or other abrasive ingredients.

For everyday cleansing depending on your skin type, here’s what to look for:

  • For oily or acne-prone skin use foaming liquid cleanser. Airy foam breaks down dirt and excess sebum, cleaning the pores.
  • For dry, red, eczema-prone skin use cream or lotion cleanser with glycerin or shea butter that removes impurities while simultaneously hydrating the skin.
  • For sensitive skin use oil based cleansers with non-comedogenic oils (like argan oil) that are light and moisturizing.
  • For mature skin consider a melting balm, rich heavier cleanser that can be used without water to dissolve makeup and maintain hydration or the soap-free French creation, micellar water.


Think of toners as “beauty shots” skin care supplements. These thin liquids deliver an extra layer of nutrients, helping the other products in your regimen be better absorbed, while balancing your complexion.

Depending on your skin care needs, consider toners with the following ingredients:

  • Alpha (lactic, glycolic) and beta (salicylic) hydroxy acids to gently remove dead skin cells, oils that can clog pores, and minimize dullness.
  • Hyaluronic acid to boost hydration, plump skin to subtly treat fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Rose water and green tea to calm irritation and reduce redness with an anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Vitamin E and C to fight daily exposure to free radicals, the main causes of skin aging.


Serums are important skin treatment add-ons.  Serums are filled with concentrated doses of active ingredients that can mitigate a number of skin concerns from dark spots to wrinkles. While there are “limitless options” for ingredients, consider products with these high potency proven categories:

  • Hyaluronic acid to seal in hydration and strengthen the barrier function of the top layer of the skin.
  • Anti-oxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, ferulic acid, green tea extract to help brighten dull skin and decrease skin unevenness.
  • Collagen stimulators including retinols, growth factors, vitamin B3, peptides to stimulate the production of collagen and elastin structural proteins of the skin that prevent lines and skin sagging. Retinoids are gold standard of skin care, speeding cellular turnover.
  • Anti-inflammatory ingredients such as colloidal sulfur, niacinamide to calm redness and irritation by decreasing inflammation, and improve acne via antimicrobial effects.

Dr. Reszko’s Tips

Wait for the serum to completely absorb and dry before applying a secondary moisturizer.  Mixing the two might dilute and decrease absorption of the potent ingredients of the serum.

Choose anti-oxidant serum in AM to maximize protection from the environmental harms, air pollution, and sun exposure.  Choose collagen stimulators at night to repair and restore the skin.

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